French-Canadian fur trappers called this place “Les mauvais terres pour traverse”: bad lands to travel through. I’m finding it just the opposite, though. The only thing that slowed us down all day was a herd of bighorn sheep on the trail and our own inability to stop gawking at the alien landscape, all bare rock towers striped in rust-orange and pale white. Now we’ve come to a complete stop as the sun sets over our campsite. The stark white pillars and spires of the Badlands transform with the setting sun into fiery hues of reds and oranges, and I think this is more than a place to travel through; it’s a great land to stop in.
Turn by Turn from the Castle Trail Parking Lot
- From the parking lot, head northwest on Castle Trail, following it for 1.4 miles till you cross Old Northeast road.
- Shortly after the road the trail splits. Head northwest again (hiker’s right) onto Medicine Root Trail.
- Continue for two miles until you come to another junction with Castle trail.
- From the junction, seek out a secluded place to make camp; park regulations require that your campsite be at least .5 mile from the trail. Try just over the ridge due west of the junction for great views and a flat tent spot.
- In the morning, reconnect with Castle trail and head east, following it 1.8 miles to the first junction you crossed. Retrace the first couple turns back to the parking lot.
Permit None, but make sure to sign in at the trailhead register Contact Badlands National Park
Know before you go The rare water in the Badlands is undrinkable due to sediment, so make sure to carry in enough for your entire trip.